Coming into the game in rather patchy pre-season form (following a 13-0 victory against local side Cortina d’Ampezzo, they then proceeded to crumble 3-0 against French side PSG), Fiorentina took on an Aston Villa team who had beaten Serie A outfit Juventus during their pre season and, like la Viola, lingered in the Champions League places for the majority of last season in the English top flight.
As to be expected then, the encounter between the two evenly matched sides at Villa Park remained tight and relatively bereft of chances early on, only springing to life on 12 minutes when Sebastian Frey was called upon to produce a smart save from a Craig Gardner free kick. The chance seemed to stir the home side on, and it was only a minute later when they took the lead. Ashley Young, receiving the ball on the left, took the ball past Gianluca Comotto before cutting inside and fizzing a low driven ball across the six yard box onto the outstretched boot of Emile Heskey, who had found himself in front of Alessandro Gamberini, to poke the ball home.
After conceding, Fiorentina took a while to get back into the game and it was 25 minutes into the match when they were presented with their first opportunity to trouble Villa goalkeeper Brad Friedel. Using his strength and pace, Juan Manuel Vargas gathered the ball on the left, brushed aside young defender Eric Lichaj and burst into the penalty area before unleashing a fierce drive into the side netting, with a relieved Friedel watching on.
As the match wore on, Fiorentina carried on pressing in search of an equaliser and on 32 minutes they had their best chance of the first half. After the Aston Villa defenders failed to clear their area, a dangerously bouncing ball fell to young Montenegrin striker Stevan Jovetić, who lashed in a vicious half volley that was brilliantly saved by a diving Friedel. With the game turning in their favour, the final fifteen minutes of the half saw further chances fall again to Jovetić and to Alberto Gilardino, who should have done better with his shot after being found unmarked in the Villa box by a delightfully weighted Marco Marchionni through ball.
After finishing the first half strongly, Fiorentina began the second period in similar fashion. Another glorious opportunity to equalise fell to Gilardino just after the 50 minute mark, his diving header from a well placed Vargas cross was pushed over the bar by Villa’s substitute keeper Brad Guzan, who had replaced Friedel during the break. Seven minutes later, more smooth build up play by la Viola saw the ball reach Riccardo Montolivo on the edge of the area, but the Italian saw his 25 yard effort fly harmlessly over Guzan’s net.
As the second half reached its mid way point, Villa began to edge their way back into the game, counter attacking frequently whilst utilising the pace of midfielder Fabian Delph and striker Gabriel Agbonglahor. The former, making his debut for the club, looked dangerous throughout the game and had his own strike from outside the area deflected away by a Fiorentina defence desperate the keep the score line down to 1-0.
Undeterred, Fiorentina kept the pressure on and almost equalised again on 65 minutes. A floated ball into the six yard box once again found the impressive Jovetić, who leaped high above the Villan’s defence and thumped a headed effort off the crossbar. 10 minutes later, the Villa woodwork was rattled again, this time from the penalty spot. Centre half Curtis Davies was dubiously adjudged to have handled the ball in the area by the match officials and, despite the consternations of the crowd, Gilardino stepped up to take the kick. However, his low driven effort cannoned back off the upright and cleared, with Guzan well beaten. 1-0 then was how it stayed, yet despite the result, boss Cesare Prandelli will no doubt be pleased with his players’ efforts and will be hoping, more importantly, that his charges got the work out they needed ahead of a crucial first leg against Sporting in their Champions League qualifier.